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Media freedom still a stumbling block for Georgia’s image abroad


Monday, 25 October 2010

images/stories/articles/logo/mikrofon.jpg During his recent trip to the US, Prime Minister, Nika Gilauri rejected accusations that there are problems with the transparency of media ownership in Georgia by pointing to Georgia’s diverse media landscape and comparing the country’s media to the global picture.

“ Georgia you can switch channels. And on one channel somebody will say some good things about [the] government. On another channel the government will be the worst government in the whole world.” Gilauri said speaking at the Atlantic Council in Washington on October 7.

While a post-soviet, post-Rose Revolution Georgia has enjoyed being described as a country with the “potential to become a Lighthouse of Democracy,” concerns about the freedom of the media in the country have recently returned to the international agenda. In the annual press freedom index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on October 20, Georgia is ranked 99th out of 178, a fall on last year where it stood at 81st.

Transparency International Georgia (TI), a local branch of the global watchdog organization, has repeatedly drawn attention to the ownership of Georgia’s broadcasters, pointing to the anonymous control of private TV stations which allegedly take advantage of liberal regulations and “off-shore post boxes in tax havens.”

According to a report issued by TI on November 20, 2009, the owners of Degson Limited, the Virgin Islands-registered, primary co-owners of the national TV stations Rustavi 2 and Mze remain unknown. Furthermore, “several other regional stations are officially owned by people who are closely connected to members of national or regional administrative bodies and high-ranking party officials,” it continues.

Despite this, Georgia has still been assessed more positively than many other post-Soviet states.In the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2010 survey (released April 27, 2010) which evaluates the relative freedom of 196 countries, Georgia was rated along with Ukraine as a “Partly Free” state, while many other former post-soviet countries (excluding the Baltic states) were categorized as having media institutions that were “Not Free”.

The report classed countries as “Partly Free” if the state “moderately protect[s] almost all political rights and civil liberties to those that more strongly protect some political rights and civil liberties while less strongly protecting others.”

The European Union, which over the last three years has provided a total of € 2.5 million for the development of independent media in Georgia, has also pointed to the problem of transparency of broadcast media ownership, in its latest report on the implementation of Georgia’s commitments under the EU-Georgia European Neighborhood Policy Action Plan.

The President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili has also recently commented on the freedom of Georgia’s press.

“Everything is said in Georgia, there are no taboos; there are no libel [or] defamation laws,” said Saakashvili at a Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles on April 27. Journalists and experts disagree, saying media ownership does remain an area of concern. Ekaterine Basilaia, Academic Fellowship Program Fellow, and lecturer at the department of journalism at Tbilisi State University says Imedi TV is the best example of the troubling situation for media transparency in the country. “For the last two years, the ownership and governance board of ‘Imedi’ has changed several times and society is questioning its current directorate and owner. Moreover, this month, a reshuffle has taken place and the issue of ownership is still obscured,” Basilaia told Georgia Today.

However, Basilaia stressed that there has been an improvement in the professionalism of the Georgian media, a fact that has been “confirmed by international media critics”.

by Margaret Shakarashvili

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